Recently (22 March 2013) I took my advanced topics exam. In spirit of the Princeton Generals, I wrote out my interview questions for use to anyone in these special topics.

Topics: linear algebraic groups, class field theory

Committee: Freydoon Shahidi (chair), David Goldberg

Linear algebraic groups:

Goldberg decided to start with Linear algebraic groups. What is meant by ‘split’? (I told I had prepared only the algebraically closed case. They were okay). What is parabolic? If Q is parabolic in G and P is parabolic in Q, prove that P is parabolic in G. (Went totally blank. They gave hints – use the other equivalent definition).

State Bruhat decomposition. (I started defining terms – maximal torus, root system, Weyl group etc.) How is the Weyl group related to the torus? (Another moment when I blanked out). How does W act on T? (By conjugation. So W is the quotient of the normalizer of the maximal torus by its centralizer). When is the centralizer equal the torus? (When it is maximal). Shahidi objected and corrected me twice when I wrongly pronounced “veil” for Weyl group – correct is “vile”. There is another important group after Andre Weil.

Bruhat decomposition for GL_n. What is it’s Weyl group? (S_n). What is the length of an element? (minimal length of the decomposition in terms of reflections). What is the polynomial the big cell satisfies? (I had prepared this one. Told the answer and that the proof goes by induction but Shahidi was not satisfied. He told something I didn’t quite understand. I gave the decomposition explicitly and he told it generalizes the well-known LU decomposition to classical groups).

What is the critical step in the classification of semisimple groups of rank 1? (Uses Bruhat decomposition). Give a sketch of proof. (I couldn’t. But turns out, they really wanted me to state the theorem. SL_2 and PSL_2).

Given that the normalizer of a parabolic is itself, show that it must be connected. (Missed a step in that one can choose the conjugating element inside the connected component).

[ That was all about algebraic groups. Nothing about Dynkin diagrams, finding parabolics, simple connectedness and fundamental groups of classical groups. ]


Number Theory:

Class group of Q(\sqrt -7). (Minkowski bound works).

Class group of Q(\sqrt 21). (I saw that 25 – 21 = 4 and started considering the factorization of the prime 2 above using quadratic reciprocity but got it wrong. It took me almost 10 grueling minutes to figure out that 21 was not a prime! Embarrassment).

Define the Hilbert symbol. State the norm condition. Prove the bi-multiplicativity property. (Consequence of a group homomorphism). State and prove Hilbert’s reciprocity. (I had prepared a classical proof from Serre but he insisted on proving via Class field theory. Proved that the local p-Artin maps glue to give a global Artin map and the theorem follows elegantly).

Goldberg asked if I knew anything about the generalized symbol. (I stated and mentioned the skew-symmetry property). He said it’s not in your syllabus anyways.

Show that p = a^2 + ab + b^2 precisely when p is 1 (mod 3). (I was looking at the field of cube roots of unity but was blundering some norm calculation. After many frustrating minutes for everyone, it was discovered that the problem was wrong and should have p = a^2 – ab + b^2. I commented, “I have been doing this calculation since tenth grade” on which Prof. Shahidi quickly retorted, “still you haven’t memorized it!”


The exam lasted for 90 minutes. They told me to wait outside and after a stressful 5-minute period for me, they came out and congratulated me.

Shahidi: Good, congratulations.

Me: Thanks.

Shahidi: Don’t see me for a month now.

Me: Yeah, the past two weeks were tough on me too.

Shahidi: Let us not meet each other for a while now. (All smile in acknowledgement).