Playwright and novelist Michael Frayn reminds us the world is irregular and confused [and] understanding this is where any inquiry into the nature of things has to begin’ (2006: 37). A conference panel, such as the one that we (the authors) arranged ourselves into in late 2015, would appear to resist such irregularity and confusion. Presenters speak (as we did) in a predetermined order, observing a time limit and, where possible, aiming for coherence in theme, content or field. As creative practice researchers, knee-deep in our doctoral projects, each of us spoke of our recent experiences in different immersive writing environments – residencies, labs and boot camps – proposing there might be such a thing as ‘living in the research project’. Our session was lively and well received. Within our different approaches was room for playfulness and spontaneity. These spilled out into the presentation as a whole: with no prior consultation, we were surprised and delighted by unexpected connections. The residency, lab and, yes, even ‘thesis boot camp’ had playful elements in and of themselves, and perhaps these were the uniting factor. We were encouraged to publish together, expand on the ideas discussed. But, as Francesca Rendle-Short has written, We are too often obsessed with content, the “what” [rather than the “how”]’ (2014: 92). We wondered if there was something further to mine. Had the panel itself become its own playroom? Three HDR candidates decided to assume the role of ‘panel beaters’, slip on some overalls, and find out.