19 Year Old Psychology Student Earns Ph.D.

By Staci Wilson, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
April 10, 2012

Juliet Beni, a graduate student in the psychology department, will graduate this spring with a PhD in social/ personality psychology. Beni began her college education at just eight years old, taking courses at Riverside City College, where, three years later, she earned her AA degree and simultaneously graduated high-school. At age twelve, Beni transferred to the University of California, Riverside as a junior. She majored in psychology, but also cultivated an interest in creative writing, and even worked for The Highlander as a staff writer for a time. At age fifteen (in 2008), Beni completed her BA and began the PhD program at UCR. She completed her MA in 2010, and since then has been conducting dissertation research under the guidance of Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Dr. Robin DiMatteo, who will hood Beni for her PhD in social/ personality psychology this coming June.

Dr. Di Matteo’s recent research, which examines the roles of adherence and interpersonal relationships in the achievement of health and effective medical care, actually resounds quite meaningfully with Beni’s personal history, which may provide some grain of insight to the teenager’s incredible motivation and perseverance. A family vacation to Tuscany in 2004 nearly turned fatal when the car unexpectedly spun out of control. Beni, as well as her aunt and sister, had to be rushed to the hospital, where Beni’s spleen was removed in an emergency surgery. The eleven-year-old and her family were then forced to face not only the physical and emotional trauma of such an accident, but also the reality of the social and legal complications of receiving medical care outside their home country. To take a bright side from a terrible situation, however, the experience left Juliet Beni with a profound interest in medical science and the delivery of medical care, as well as a goal for her outstanding academic abilities. According to Dr. DiMatteo, “[Beni] has a very strong commitment to integrating social sciences into medical education, and to working to improve the health of Riverside.”

Upon completion of her PhD in June, Beni will begin medical school in the UCR/UCLA Thomas Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences. Over the next two years in Riverside, and throughout her time at UCLA, she plans to continue collaboration with the psychology department at UCR. As she said herself in an interview with CHASS Minds Alive, “with rising health care costs and increasing complexity in medical decision making, it has become incredibly important for people to have an understanding of the impact they can have on their own health.” In continuing her studies, she will combine her knowledge of the social side of health care with an understanding of clinical science. Motivated by the accident that threatened her own life, Beni hopes to apply her training as an expert in social science and health care toward supporting patients faced with disadvantageous circumstances, both at an individual and a population level.

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