Alumni Highlights

Outstanding Physics and Biophysics Alumni Interview

Callie (Fiedler) Higgins (recently married to a fellow USD graduate!)
Physics B.A. & Mathematics B.A., 2011
Electrical Engineering Ph.D., CU Boulder 2017
National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Associate at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)


What are you up to now? How did you get there?

I'm currently loving working as a materials research scientist in the Material Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Associateship Program. I am studying fast, local responses of photoactivated materials using atomic force microscopy, something a bit different than my optics and bioengineering PhD and equally as exciting. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with some very talented scientists at NIST at the end of my PhD work at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder and they asked me to write an NRC proposal to continue working with them. My proposal was accepted by the committee, and I have enjoyed working at NIST since August 2017!

Callie Higgins, '11

Is this what you envisioned yourself doing when you graduated as a physics/biophysics major from USD?

I loved my experience working as an undergraduate researcher through both USD's SURE program and through a research experience at CU Boulder my junior year, so I knew I wanted to continue researching in some capacity. I also knew that I wanted to push beyond the current state of research and realized the most efficient way to do that was to pursue a PhD. Truth be told, throughout my PhD I became pretty jaded by research, as most students do, and I thought I wanted to jump right into an industry position, a common route for PhDs not interested in academia, but then my colleagues at NIST approached me about the NRC proposal and the rest is history! At the risk of sounding corny, I have completely fallen in love with research again and couldn't be happier with my decision to pursue a position in a national lab which allows me to pursue my own research interests while cultivating industry and academia collaborations, so for fellow jaded PhDs out there, have hope!

How did your time in the Physics and Biophysics Department at USD shape your career path, your outlook on life and/or your life outside of work?

USD was instrumental in my decision to pursue a PhD and ultimately become a NIST scientist because I was able to have more hands-on experience with the nitty gritty, on-the-spot problem solving aspects of research than most of my fellow PhD classmates, which are the bits of research I find most fulfilling!

What is your proudest accomplishment since you graduated from USD? What allowed you to achieve it?

It's probably obvious at this point, but obtaining my PhD was without a doubt my biggest accomplishment since graduating from USD's physics program. It was an arduous process, but completely worth it to me. I am also quite proud of a completely different accomplishment, which is climbing my first 6000 meter mountain in the Andes Mountains in South America (JUST shy of 20k feet) and have plans to summit my first 20k peak soon!

Is there anything you wished you had done while a physics/biophysics major at USD that you didn't?  

Without a doubt I wish that I had networked more throughout my time at USD. There are so many exceptional researchers and companies in the San Diego area that I wish I had actively sought out during my time, if even just to chat with and hear their stories. The people I've met and the impression I’ve had on them have been the most valuable piece of my professional and personal life, and I wish I had fostered that network more while at USD.

What advice do you have for current/future USD physics and biophysics majors?

I would simply say to take advantage of as many opportunities, both personal and professionally oriented, while you are at USD. You have more freedom than you know and the people you meet in each of these opportunities will be invaluable going forward.

What are your future plans?

I plan to continue researching at NIST in Boulder for as long as they’ll have me because the atmosphere of excitement for research developments is truly infectious. I am also pursuing some additional academic and industry collaborations to further tissue engineering, so stay posted!

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Yes! I’d love to share that I recently married a fellow USD graduate of the Psychology Department, Blake Higgins, who I started dating my sophomore year! He also recently finished his residency in pediatric dentistry at one of the best children's hospitals in the nation, Children's Hospital Colorado, and I couldn't be more proud of him. We're finally taking some time right now to travel through South America. As an additional, random side note, I am also one in a long line of USD graduates in my family, where both my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, and sister all tout USD as their alma mater. Go Toreros!

Alumni Data

USD biophysics and physics graduates go on to graduate programs in physics, engineering, medicine, biology, education, business, and more; they pursue careers in biotechnology, nuclear fusion research, aerospace engineering, health care, software engineering, machine intelligence research, teaching, pharmaceutical development, and more.

Our alumni have . . .

gone on to graduate and medical school at prestigious universities:

  • Vanderbilt Quantitative Biology
  • UCLA Physics
  • Texas A&M Veterinary School
  • Georgia Tech Computer Science
  • SDSU Mechanical Engineering
  • ASU Materials Science
  • University of Wisconsin Physics
  • Case Western Reserve
been hired to work at a wide range of companies:
  • Illumina
  • DIII-D National Fusion Facility
  • Sandia National Lab
  • National Institute of Standards & Technology
  • Mitre Corp


received a number of awards during and following their time at USD:

  • Beckman Scholarships
  • APS GSOFT Poster Prize
  • ASU President's Fellowship
  • UCSC Regents' Fellow
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • APS Le Roy Apker Award
  • Goldwater Scholarships