Public Talks and Public Speaking Courses

Public outreach

I love engaging with the general public about science and exoplanets. In Nov 2018 I received the Caroline Herschel Lectureship Prize for a promising female astronomer in the UK, and for this lectureship I am giving three public talks on astronomy to the Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geological Sciety in London and the Herschel Society in Bath.

Public Speaking Workshop

Public speaking is a vital tool for nearly all professionals in todays age. I've developed a three hour public speaking workshop that distills the key concepts to public speaking as a performance art.

Mental Health Workshop

Depression and anxiety are found at rates 6x higher than the general public for graduate students.
I have a 90 min workshop available to students and faculty that discusses research driven strategies for improving mental well-being and destigmatizing mental health care in academia.

Impostor Syndrome Workshop

Impostor syndrome is rife within academia.
I have a 90 min workshop available to students and
faculty to learn about this pheonomenon and to discuss ways to buffer against it.

Please contact me for availability
for public talks or if interested in a workshop.
sarah.rugheimer (at)

Public Speaking Workshop

Public Speaking did not come easy to me. I used to turn bright red, visibly shake and my voice would quiver. Over the past 10 years I've taken many courses on public speaking, participated in professional development series, and have practiced. I now offer a three hour workshop covering the basics of public speaking based on what I've learned in that time. The old addage: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it" is true and often ignored in traditional University public speaking courses. Van Edwards at Science of People had people watch TED talks and rate them on charisma, credibility, and intelligence. The twist is that half watched the TED talk on mute. The ratings were the same. I've developed Finding Connection, an interactive three-hour workshop on the voice and body performance aspects of public speaking. A primary focus of the workshop is finding connection with your audience and stage presence. We will techniques to combat stage fright, how to physically warm up your voice and body before a talk, and how to find connection with your audience. Other topics will include vocal resonance, posture, vocal intonation, and handling questions. It requires no advance preparation but will require audience participation! Please email me if interested in running this workshop at your institution.

Impostor Workshop

"Impostor syndrome" often hits students in grad school and academics in general, and can be incredibly isolating. Have you ever secretly worried that others will find out that you're not as smart as they think you are? That if they only knew the thoughts in your brain they would see that you are just barely keeping up? When you do succeed, do you think, "Phew, I fooled 'em this time but I may not be so lucky next time?" Or do you think that "If I can do it, it must not be that hard. Anyone could!" If so, you are not alone. Despite evidence of their abilities, many successful, intelligent people feel like they are an "impostor" and their successes are due to external factors or luck. This hour and a half workshop is perfect for a lunch time gathering where we will discuss the impostor syndrome and identify steps to overcome impostor thoughts.

Mental Health Workshop

From Nature Biotechnology, 2018, Vol 36, 3.
From Nature Biotechnology, 2018, Vol 36, 3.
There is a mental health crisis in academia and for graduate students in particular. Graduate students are more than six times as likely than the general population to experience anxiety and depression. As well, there is a persistent implicit message that if you are in science, you have to do it to the exclusion of all else, then you will be successful, and then you will be happy. However the opposite is true. Shawn Achor aptly writes: “The constant message is if you work hard you will be successful - and then you will be happy. But decades of psychology and neuroscience have shown we have it backward. We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.” One of my favorite studies highlighted in his book is that doctors promised candy before reading a patient dosier arrived at diagnosis 2x faster and were 2.5 times less anchored (aka more creative) in evaluating that patient (Estrada, Insen & Young 1997). This workshop goes through some of the research on how to increase bolster mental heath in times of stress via exercise, social investment, and meditation. It also covers building good habits, and tips for advising. For example, people produce the best work when the ratio of positive to negative feedback is around 6:1.

A sample of Public Talks offered

Earth 2.0 - Detecting a Second Origin of Life in our Universe

This planet we call home is teeming with life from the very depths of the ocean where no light penetrates, to small brine layers between ice crystals and near-boiling iridescent waters of Yellowstone. As we discover the vast diversity of extremophile life on Earth, our minds can only begin to imagine the possibilities for life to exist on other planets in the Universe. In this talk I present how we are going to characterize terrestrial planet atmospheres orbiting other stars with future missions, hopefully finding evidence of life in the Universe and answering the age-old question of "Are we alone?"

Story of Life on Earth

There is only one known planet with life, Earth. In this talk I cover the highlights of the history of life on our planet. We will first venture back to the earliest days of our Solar System with the formation of our planet and then the massive impact collision that formed the Moon. The Hadean era was characterized by the first basalt crust as Earth cooled and then the formation of the oceans and granite setting the stage for the origin of life. There is more we don’t know than we do know about life's origins; one of my favorite quotes is by George Whitesides: “It’s a long way from slime to Mozart" and Steve Benner's follow-up: "And it’s a long way from HCN to slime.” Through looking first at the Stanley Miller experiment and the emergence of biomolecules, I will show how this foundation is thought to have contributed to the origin of self-replicating systems and competition. This early life was anaerobic, living the Archean era. I then discuss how oxygenic photosynthesis evolved and why O2 may evolve on other planets where water and CO2 are present, and thus why it is a key biosignature for exoplanet characterization missions.

Ultraviolet light – friend or foe?

Ultraviolet light is famous for its destructive capabilities to life (and why we get those painful sunburns) but UV light is also important for some prebiotic reactions. In addition, UV light is vital to interpreting future observations of biosignatures, signs of life, on a planet orbiting another star. UV destroys some biosignatures like methane, but it produces others like ozone. Additionally, all false positives known to produce oxygen relate in one way or another to UV photolysis. Thus, we will be unable to interpret if a biosignature is real or not unless we also understand the UV environment of the host star and the way that light is absorbed or transmitted in the atmosphere, which is the main focus of my research. This talk discusses these aspects, the positives and negatives of UV, both from a planetary and biosignature interpretation context, as well as its potential benefit to the origins of metabolism balanced by its destructive potential to key biomolecules in the origin of life.

Examples of past public talks

I have given several public talks at Harvard in various capacities. Most recently I was invited for the "Next in Science" program at the Radcliffe institute for advanced study. The talk entitled, "How to Detect Life on Another Planet" is available online. I also gave a public astrobiology talk, "The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life" at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics public observing night, and here is a five minute public talk called "Spectral Fingerprints of Another Earth" I gave at the Harvard Horizons Symposium as a Fellow in 2014:

I love science fiction, especially as it relates to life on exoplanets. After the movie Interstellar came out, I was a panelist at MIT for a public talk and movie screening about the science behind the movie. A naturephile, I gave a public astrobiology talk, "Finding Earth 2.0," at the Arunah Hill Days, a family-oriented weekend of astronomy, star gazing, nature walks, and science education in western Massachusetts. In May, I have been invited as a contributor to the Shona project on a remote Scottish island to give a public talk on the prospects for finding life on other planets and how that relates to our society.


I was a guest on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science, interviewed Adam Rutherford, on the prospect of detecting biosignatures in the next few decades and the steps required to be prepare for observations with JWST and large ground-based observatories. I also was a guest on The Curious Case of Rutherford and Fry on BBC Radio 4.

With NPR Boston I was interviewed live in a one hour segment with Christopher Lydon on Radio Open Source about finding Earth 2.0.