An authentic research experience—where the outcome is unknown at the outset—is essential to the development of real-world scientists. However, most “canned” laboratory activities at the undergraduate level have well-planned outcomes that are known to the teacher and surmised by the students. With the goal of better preparing science students for research and others as informed consumers of science, I added such an authentic research experience to my college-level introductory geology class. Students developed the research question, devised methods, gathered and analyzed data, drew inferences, and presented results on a topic with conclusions unknown at the outset. For most classes, the project worked because at least some students were willing and able to take intellectual authority as leaders and to guide their peers. However, when students were unable to transfer authority from the professor to themselves and their data, the project failed. This article describes the prerequisites of success (naturally emerging peer leadership) and the seeds of failure in one case study of authentic research in the college introductory science classroom.

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