...is here, and that means summer students. When I was a grad student, getting a summer job always entailed negotiating that dreaded question 'Will you do programming', which to me was always a warning sign that the project would involve only programming.
Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I still dislike having students come over to do programming work; however, the reality is that one has to find projects that are interesting, have some kind of business motivation, and yet have a three month timeline. It is well nigh impossible to guarantee results in a theoretical project in any fixed time (or at least I have not learnt the art of this yet :)), so invariably summer projects tend to involve some kind of tool/system building so that one can demonstrate concrete progress in a short timespan.
The trick is to figure out a topic that is amenable to 'covert theory' that can lead to more satisfying long-term research. After all...
Before each summer is done
Their theorem will be unfurled
By the dawning of fall term
They'll take over the world... with algorithms !!
(with apologies to Pinky and the Brain)