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student reading
July 18, 2019
4 mins read

The new student's dictionary

Walking onto campus can feel like you’ve entered a fantasyland full of made-up words and acronyms that sound like spells and secret organisations.

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!


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.

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: No, it’s not a ship (the “S.S. C”... get it?). It stands for “Student Service Centre” and 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! 

UBC Secure: Feel secure that this WiFi 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.

On campus:

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. You can talk to them during drop-in hours at Brock Hall. Or, you can get the contact info for your assigned ES Advisor in your SSC under Personal Info > UBC Contacts.

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 organizing events like AMS Firstweek, providing services like the AMS Foodbank, managing student health plans, operating The Nest (see below), and more. 

The Nest: This big, shiny building is the heart of campus—you can get all kinds of food here, study, visit the SASC, Vice, or Speakeasy offices, and attend a variety of events, like Clubs Days in mid-Sept. 

UBC Life Building: You might hear an old-timer or two call this place the “Old SUB” (it was basically the previous Nest). It’s a great place to hang out, study, grab a bite to eat, exercise, or visit student services like Go Global and International Student Advising

IKB: The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is the other big, shiny building in the middle of campus, and is a prime spot to study or work on group projects. It’s a bright open space that invites collaboration, and also hosts services like the Centre for Writing and Scholarly Communication.

Koerner: This library is a good place for some quiet studying, and is also home to one of the largest collections of books on campus, from contemporary fiction to all the juicy texts you’ll need for your essays.

SRC: The Student Recreation Centre has facilities to work out in and houses intramural sports, fitness classes, and other activities. You might even write an exam in here!

BirdCoop: Come here to send a raven or owl back home...wait, what? That doesn’t work in real life? Then where have all those letters I’ve been sending gone? Apparently, this is simply the gym inside the SRC—great for a workout though! 

The ARC: You can pronounce this one as though it’s not in all caps. The ARC is the spiffy new gym in the basement of the Life Building. Get sweaty.


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.

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

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. This is what university looks like in the movies.

Tutorial: Tutorials (sometimes called “discussions”) usually accompany lectures once a week, 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. Bring out your inner mad scientist (but use your powers for good, of course).

Residence life:

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

RCs and RLMs: Residence Coordinators and Residence Life Managers are professional Residence Life staff who support Residence Advisors and help manage the residence community. 

Meal plan: The idea of the meal plan is pretty straightforward. You essentially purchase a certain amount of money to be used at UBC Food Services, most commonly if you live in residence. Check out this post for more information on residence dollars, flex dollars, and where to spend them.

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