student reading
July 24, 2020
4 mins read

The new student's dictionary

Starting at UBC can feel like you’ve been initiated into a secret organisation full of made-up words and acronyms that sound like spells.

Luckily, I’ve unlocked these ancient riddles and have the answers for you. 

If any of the words or acronyms you've heard so far are a little confusing (or if you ever need some clarification throughout the year), this dictionary has got you covered!

Online tools and technologies:

CWL: This stands for “Campus-Wide Login” and grants you access to Canvas, the SSC (see below), and more. You probably already have one, but if not, head here to set one up.

SSC: The “Student Service Centre” is the hub for some of the nuts and bolts of your academics and time here. You can deal with all your finances on the SSC, see your exam schedules and final grades, and more! 

Canvas: The brushstrokes of your classes are painted on this online platform where professors upload course materials and you can hand in assignments, partake in discussions, take quizzes, and see assignment grades.

Collaborate Ultra: I think it sounds like a particularly expensive tandem bicycle, but Collaborate Ultra is a video and audio conferencing tool that your profs may activate through Canvas. If your course uses it, it can help you connect with your profs, TAs, and classmates through lectures, discussions, office hours, presentations, and more!

Zoom: At this point we’re probably all pretty familiar with Zoom, but you might use it for class this year when Collaborate Ultra isn’t an option. Does this Mazda commercial from my childhood play in my head every time I open Zoom? Yes. Every time

Proctorio: Surprisingly not a minor character in one of Shakespeare’s Italian-set comedies, Proctorio is how you’ll likely take exams this year. It allows you to take invigilated exams to keep test-taking fair for everyone.


Academic Calendar: Not only does the Calendar function as a, you know, calendar of key dates over the year, but you'll also find important information on degree requirements and university policies here. 

Syllabus: In case you didn’t have these in high school, a syllabus is usually distributed at the beginning of the semester. It outlines what books and materials you’ll need for the course, important dates, and contact info for the course administrators. The constitution of every class.

TA: Teaching Assistants are usually upper-year undergraduate or graduate students who help the course professor mark assignments, respond to questions, and lead tutorials. 

Lecture: Other than what your parents give you when their George Foreman Grill ends up on the roof of the neighbour’s house (just me?), lectures are the core of many lower-level programs. They usually involve listening to a professor or lecturer speak for 50 to 80 minutes on a topic while you take notes and ask questions. 

Tutorial: Tutorials (sometimes called “discussions”) usually accompany lectures once a week, and are held in a smaller group. They’re a chance to work through difficult course material with the professor or a TA, ask further questions, or discuss readings. 

Lab: In science-oriented courses, labs offer practical experience that complement the course material. Work is usually done in small groups under the supervision of a TA. Although labs are usually done in an actual laboratory, you may have online versions this year depending on your course. Bring out your inner mad scientist (but use your powers for good).

Other resources to know:

AMS: Rhymes with hams. Just kidding, it’s an acronym. Please say all the letters individually. The Alma Mater Society acts as the student government and is responsible for providing services like the AMS Food Bank, managing student health plans, operating The Nest (see below), and more. 

ESA: Tragically not the European Space Agency, but our ESAs are pretty cool, too. Enrolment Services (or ES) Advisors can help you budget, apply for loans and bursaries, and answer questions about UBC’s regulations and processes. Get the contact info for your assigned ES Advisor in your SSC under Personal Info > UBC Contacts.

UBC Rec: Whether you’re a regular Simone Biles or just beginning your fitness journey (and let’s be honest, we’re all just beginning compared to Simone), UBC Recreation has something for you! If you’re on campus, check out for updates on what’s open, or explore their Get Active at Home section for online fitness classes, tips, and more!

Bonus terms: On campus

Although most of us will be studying and working online this year, some students will be living in residence and certain, small programs will be running on campus. If this applies to you, or you’re just curious, check out these terms as well!

RA: One letter away from rad, RAs, or Residence Advisors, are upper-year students who typically live on each floor in residence. They help connect you to UBC, and are always available to provide support, advice, and guidance.

RLMs: Residence Life Managers (RLMS) are professional Residence Life staff who oversee Residence Advisors and help manage the residence community. 

Meal plan: The idea of the meal plan is pretty straightforward. Basically, you load your UBCcard with a certain amount of money, which can be used in the residence dining room and at a variety of locations across campus.

  • First-year students living in residence: Learn more about your Residence Meal Plan
  • Off-campus and upper-year students: Check out the Chomp Meal Plans for ways to save money on food at UBC.

UBC Secure: Feel secure that this Wi-Fi network provided to the UBC community will get you through your assignments. It’s available in most buildings on campus, but you might need to use your data outside sometimes. Log on using your CWL.

The Nest: This big, shiny building is the heart of campus—you can get all kinds of food here or get some studying in (but remember to maintain 6 feet of distance from others during these COVID times). It's also where you'll find offices of resources like AMS Peer Support and the AMS SASC (Sexual Assault Support Centre).  

IKB: The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is the other big, shiny building in the middle of campus, and houses classrooms, study spaces, and the Music, Art, and Architecture Library. It was actually the first library on campus when it opened in 1925, though it’s had some updates since then!

Since all libraries are currently closed, make sure you check out to explore the great online resources available to you as a student, and for updates on when libraries may reopen.

Come back to this page and the UBC Life blog anytime you want some clarification or advice—we’ve got your back!