Guide to New Graduate Students

Welcome to UBC’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. To help you get started, here’s a list of things that you should do before you come to UBC and once you get here. Note that the information is organized in categories based on where you are coming from (for example, if you are new to Canada, everything here is relevant for you).

Note: This list was first created in July 2010 and has been updated as necessary since then, so as of summer 2014 the info is up-to-date!


It’s best to start with a summary. Here are the main non-optional items that you need to do something for. Details for all of these, plus other points of advice, are below.

Before you come to UBC

1) Have a place to live

2) Get registered

3) Get in touch with your supervisor

Arriving in Canada

1) Get a social insurance number

2) Get a bank account

Arriving in BC

1) Apply to the Medical Services Plan

Arriving in Vancouver

1) Get a local phone number

2) Get used to public transit

Arriving at UBC

1) Learn your way around

2) Get your student card and UPass

3) Get tuition paid

Arriving at ECE

1) Meet your supervisor

2) Check-in at Kaiser 5500

3) Get your scholarship/RA finalized

4) Get an ECE account

5) Get access to ECE buildings

6) Get your IT account configured

7) Get subscribed to the email list

8) Get familiar with your surroundings

9) Get involved with the ECEGSA

Before you come to UBC

Have a place to live

  • If you’re interested in on-campus housing, you’ll want to apply immediately. Deadlines for an on-time application are usually many months before the term starts. Go to UBC Housing for details. Family housing can be applied for at any time but the waiting list is long.
  • Craigslist and PadMapper are the unofficial places where many people look for a place to live. Another resource is Rentsline. Expect to pay $500-$700/month for a shared room or suite in a house, $700-$900/month for a studio apartment, and $900/month and up for apartments with bedrooms. Of course, prices vary greatly depending on location.
  • A nice map showing Vancouver’s neighbourhoods, along with general information about Vancouver, can be found here. The street in the westside with the most services (stores, restaurants, etc) is Broadway (West 9th Ave), though lots can also be found along West 4th.

Get registered

  • In order to be able to get your UPass (Vancouver public transit pass) as early as possible, you need to be registered as a full-time student. Even if you aren’t taking any courses, you MUST be registered in the thesis “course” for your program. You should have received information on how to register from the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Registration should require the use of your Campus Wide Login (CWL).
  • The thesis course is EECE 599 for MASc, and EECE 699 for PhD students. If you forget to register for one of these courses then you will have issues accessing the ECE buildings, EVEN IF you are registered for regular courses.

Get ready for orientation (optional)

  • The ECEGSA will be organizing orientation events that will obviously be superior to any other orientation you might get, but in fairness will be scheduled in consideration of the other orientations. This orientation will focus welcoming you to ECE. Watch your email or visit here for details.
  • International students might be interested in activities and information catered specifically to them. This page should be a gateway to more information.

Get your academic credentials together (optional)

  • Applications for scholarships are usually due in September, so it is important that you bring documents citing your academic record. These include official transcripts and/or diplomas from your previous institution(s). These documents must be in signed and sealed envelopes. It is also a good idea to have referees on standby to write reference letters.

Get in touch with your supervisor

  • The first thing that you should do when arriving at the department is to meet with your supervisor. It is good to touch base with your supervisor before arriving so that you will be able to arrange a meeting time in advance.

Get tuition fees deducted/deferred (optional)

  • If you will be receiving a major scholarship or research assistant-ship from UBC, and you are a Canadian or a Permanent Resident, you can apply to have your tuition fee deducted from your pay throughout the year instead of owing it all at the beginning of each semester. International students can only have their fees deferred. Go to this page to download the form for deductions and deferrals.

Get acquainted with International House (optional)

  • International students without a local address may use International House as a temporary mailing address. Their address is:

1783 West Mall
Vancouver BC
V6T 1Z2

  • You can also ask your concerns about immigration, health insurance, employment, cultural transitions, campus services, etc. by emailing or International Peer Advisors,

Get a TA application (optional)

  • If you want to TA during your first year, note that the deadline to apply is May. Application forms are made available via this page. Please note that TAships are distributed based on merit, not financial need, and are highly competitive. There are often many more applicants than positions. TAs are unionized and so people who held TAs at UBC the previous year are guaranteed to be re-hired (within certain limitations).

Arriving in Canada

Get a social insurance number

  • In order to be paid in Canada, you need a social insurance number (SIN). Domestic students should already have one by now. If you are an international student, ask your supervisor to prepare a contract for you to sign. If your supervisor will be away, they must submit a request to pay you to, in which case you pick up the contract from the department office (Room 5500 in the Kaiser Building).
  • You bring the contract and your study permit to the Vancouver Service Canada Centre in the Harry Stevens Business Building at 125 10th Avenue East (near Main Street and 10th). They will give you a printout with your SIN. Bring this printout to the department office along with a copy of your study permit so they can forward the documents to payroll.
  • Note that SIN card is not a Canadian identification. You are not supposed to carry it all the times. See below about getting a BC ID.

Get a bank account

  • In order to be paid by UBC you will need a chequing account with a Canadian bank or credit union. Note that fees and services will vary by institution, so don’t be afraid to shop around. Banks usually have specialized products/accounts for students. All major Canadian banks have branches that are near UBC or are easily accessible via transit.

Get used to sales tax

  • British Columbia has a sales tax rate of 5%. Some items are exempt, such as non-processed food items. Note that prices posted in stores do not include the taxes; they are added when you make your purchase. This is the standard in North America.

Arriving in British Columbia

Apply to the Medical Services Plan

  • All residents of British Columbia are required to enroll in the Medical Services Plan (MSP). This is required for basic medical coverage and is separate from extended health plans, including the health insurance that you can pay for with your student fees. The website for enrollment information is here.
  • It takes at least three full months after arriving in BC before your MSP coverage begins. If you are an international student you are automatically enrolled in iMED to provide basic coverage until MSP activates. If you would like to add a spouse or dependents to this coverage, or would like to learn more about iMED, visit the iMED website.

Get a driver’s license (optional)

  • A full-time student with a driver’s licenses from another province or country may use his/her old license so long as he/she remains registered as a student. If you wish to get a BC driver’s license (for example, your old license may be expiring), the process and requirements will vary depending on where you are coming from. Go to this page for details.
  • If you hold a foreign license and wish to keep using it, you may want to consider getting an international license from your home country. This is often required by car rental companies if you do not have a Canadian license.

Get a BC ID (optional)

  • Without a BC ID or a driver’s license in English, you might have trouble obtaining things that require Canadian identification, so you may want to consider getting a generic British Columbia identification card. It looks similar to a driver’s license. Details are here.

Arriving in Vancouver

Get a local phone number

  • It’s advised that you have a personal phone as it is required for some services. There are multiple land line and cellular carriers so shop around for a package that’s right for you. Note that in Canada you are charged airtime for incoming and outgoing cellular calls.

Get used to public transit

  • Living near a major bus corridor (such as Broadway or West 4th) does not guarantee that you’ll be living close to an express bus stop; the faster buses only stop every 5-10 blocks, while slower buses stop every 1-2 blocks. Check with Translink or Google Maps for details on which buses use which stops. Before you pick up your UPass, you will have to pay cash for single fare (exact change required) or purchase a book of 10 tickets from a store. Most grocery and convenience stores sell bus tickets.

Get a bike (optional)

  • Vancouver has a well-developed network (by North-American standards) of bike lanes and roads for commuting. There are many options for getting a new or used bicycle. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the laws for cyclists.

Get a car co-op membership (optional)

  • If you do not plan on buying a vehicle but would like the option of having access to one on occasion, you may consider joining a car co-op. There are several options in Vancouver: Car2go, Modo and Zipcar are two major car co-op companies in Vancouver.

Arriving at UBC

Learn your way around

  • Maps of campus are handed out at the GSS orientation. If you don’t attend it, this page has detailed campus maps and information about all campus buildings.

Get your student card and UPass

  • Full details are found here and here. It is good to get your UPass as early as possible in order to avoid paying additional fare for use of public transit. Both cards are picked up from the UBC Bookstore.

Get Library Access

  • This one is easy. Your student card IS your library card. The primary library for ECE is the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, located just west of the Student Union Building.

Get tuition paid

  • If you do not get your tuition deferred or arranged for deduction, you must make sure that you pay before the tuition deadline each semester. Tuition is paid directly to the University and you should have received instructions on how to do this from the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
  • If your tuition is not paid on time, interest and/or late fees will accrue and you will be unable to register, graduate, etc., until your fees are paid.

Get your medical insurance taken care of (optional)

  • All students are automatically added to the AMS Health and Dental plan and charged fees for it with their tuition. This is for extended coverage and is separate from MSP. You may wish to opt out of the program if you have alternate coverage, or you may wish to add a spouse or dependents for coverage. There is a narrow window in September for opting out or adding family. Visit the Health and Dental plan website for more details.

Arriving at ECE

This section makes a number of references to sending messages to, or “help” for short. Sending a message to help assigns you a ticket number. A real person reads the request and forwards the message to the appropriate person for action. Tickets are answered in the order that they are received and there are people who make sure that tickets don’t get “lost” in the system. Please note that September is a very busy time for department staff and they try very diligently to process all requests in a timely manner.

Meet your supervisor

  • It cannot be stressed enough that the first thing to do when arriving at the department is to meet with your supervisor. Your supervisor will go over important information, such as setting up how you will be paid, showing you your lab space, etc.
  • Furthermore, it is important that you maintain regular contact with your supervisor to ensure a productive working relationship. What you may perceive as “regular” can vary from person to person. If you are having an issue with your supervisor, it is important that it is identified early so that there is a greater chance of having the issue addressed. It is possible to change supervisors but this is most easily done early in your program. Please contact the Graduate Student Advisor via if you have an issue to discuss.

Check-in at Kaiser 5500

  • The department office is in the Kaiser (KAIS) building, room 5500. You must drop in here to confirm your arrival to the department.

Get your scholarship/RA finalized

  • If you will be receiving a Research Assistantship, please remind your supervisor to initiate it. Faculty members must submit requests to pay students to It is helpful to ask what the end date of your appointment will be so that you can remind your supervisor to renew your appointment before it expires. Research Assistantship appointments can only be made for up to one year at a time.
  • If you are receiving an award from tri-council (such as NSERC), you should have been contacted by the University about activating your award prior to arriving. Top-ups from the department are not automatically distributed over the whole year, but will be made as separate payments.

Get an ECE account

  • In order to log into an ECE workstation or access ECE buildings you will first need an ECE computer account. There is a form that you and your supervisor need to fill out. The form can be found on the ECE intranet site, which you need an ECE account to access (so your supervisor can download it). Your account will include an email address.

Get access to ECE buildings

  • As of September 2010, your UBC student card has a chip for FOB readers. Students who started prior to September 2010 still use their FOBs for access.
  • Access to the perimeter of the MCLD and Kaiser buildings, as well as the graduate student lounge (MCLD 422) and photocopy room (MCLD 429) are automatic once you are enrolled in the thesis course.
  • To get access to your lab, use your ECE email to send an access request to and cc your supervisor. Once your supervisor has approved the request, the access will be added. To gain access to labs in buildings outside of Macleod and Kaiser, you will need to send a request to the appropriate department and cc your supervisor. For example, there are many ECE labs in ICICS (both the West and X wings). This webpage lists the appropriate contacts for additional access requests.
  • Most building areas are locked down after 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends. Labs are always locked down. Your gives you 24/7 access. Note that if you are not registered your FOB will not work, so make sure that you are always registered for at least the thesis course.

Get your IT account configured

  • The internal help webpage contains tutorials for lots of customizing tasks, such as how to change your password, set up personal webspace, configure remote access, forward emails to another address, etc.

Get a photocopy code (optional)

  • MCLD 429 is the photocopy room. In order to use the photocopiers you need your student card. Ask your supervisor about getting access, since he/she needs to provide a project code to which to charge the photocopying. Note that many students do not need photocopying.

Get subscribed to the email list

  • As of September 2010, the department will be using an email list that will use the email address that you’ve submitted to the Student Services Centre (SSC). Make sure that your SSC account is up to date so that you receive ECE messages.

Get familiar with your surroundings

  • Your lab will be your primary space. There are also a number of common areas available to all ECE graduate students. The graduate student lounge in MCLD 422 is FOB-accessible and includes comfortable couches, a TV with cable, a ping-pong table (bring-your-own-ball), and a piano. MCLD 428 is a lunchroom that is shared with the ECE undergraduate students and has vending machines operated by the undergraduate students. There is also a shared kitchen between the lounge and lunchroom with a large fridge, a sink, and a number of microwaves.

Get Access to Management System Portal (MSP) (Optional)

[The abbreviation not to be confused with the Medical Services Plan above].

  • If you become an RA or TA then you are considered an employee of UBC. Payroll information can be found by logging into the MSP page. Please email for help with initializing your login to MSP, then you will have access to your paystubs, tax information, etc. Once you are initialized, you can use your CWL to login.

Get involved with the ECEGSA

  • The Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Student Association (ECEGSA) will be hosting a number of events for new students within the first few weeks of the fall semester. Be sure to come out and take part to meet more of your fellow students! The ECEGSA also runs events for all ECE graduate students throughout the year.