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BEVERLY HILLS — Inspired by the words of Albert Einstein, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,” Kyle Jennette is seeking to make his mark in the world.
As a research scholar with the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, the 2008 Lecanto High School alum and Flagler College grad, is learning the ins and outs of Alzheimer’s disease while working toward his goal of becoming a clinical psychologist.
“Specifically, I want to be a neuropsychologist, someone who sees somebody for psychological issues, but I would test them to see what problems correlate in the brain,” he said during a visit home to Citrus County to see his parents.
In January, Jennette, 21, began the program as a research assistant and has since moved up to clinical research scholar. His role is to work with clinical psychologists who see patients with dementia or memory disorders in the hospital and also with geneticists, neuroscientists and neurologists in neuroscience research trying to understand the biology of the disorders and diseases.
“So, you’ve got these two big fields studying essentially the same thing from different sides,” he said. “I’m the guy in the middle saying, ‘OK, this is how it comes together.’”
He said on an average day he might sit with his advisor, a clinical neuropsychologist, seeing a patient who has come in with memory problems and they would assess him or her. Later, he might sit at a computer working with numbers, reading about research from other groups doing the same thing or even looking at slides of brain samples.
“My goal is to get my PhD by age 28,” he said. “The field of clinical psychology is hard to get into and one of the most difficult PhDs you can get because with a degree you can practice and do research. Out of 400 who apply, only six to 10 get in because it’s a one-on-one mentor model.”
This current appointment at the Mayo Clinic ends in August. From there, Jennette hopes to move on to another research firm at a university. He’s looking at the University of Florida or the University of California at San Diego.
“They’re doing the exact same things I’m doing at Mayo, only in universities — I can’t get a PhD through Mayo,” he said.
Jennette’s dad, Clarence Jennette, said he’s immensely proud of his son.
“When he got to college, we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “When he was younger, his grades were all over the place and his teachers all said the same thing, ‘He’s a smart kid, but…’ So, we’d take away his skates or his bike until he brought up his grades.”
His dad said he always thought his son would be a lawyer, because he loves to argue. Two of his passions are philosophy and politics.
But, as his dad said, he’s also been the one people go to with their problems, so psychology is a natural fit. While in college he volunteered at an autistic center.
“He’s always wanted to help people,” his dad said.
Jennette said working with people with Alzheimer’s disease has touched something in him. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves.
“Between contributing to research and helping people clinically, just knowing that I’m helping those (who) need it most is the most rewarding part of my work,” he said. “Knowing I’ve helped someone in their most difficult time, it’s enough of a mark for me.”
Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at (352) 564-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.