Who’s who & what’s what

Am I an undergraduate or graduate student? What’s the difference between a professor and a TA? What exactly is a Dean and what do they do?

Universities are intricately complex organizations, steeped in centuries of history and tradition—and an abundance of specialized formal terminology to go with it.

If it sounds like everyone at UBC is speaking a different language (or if you just need a little extra clarification), we’ve put together a handy online guide for a few of those need-to-know definitions.

Undergraduate student

The majority of students at UBC are undergraduate students. Undergraduate programs are the entry-level degree-granting programs offered by most universities for students who have completed high school and are seeking further education. Most undergraduate programs are four years in length and will result in the fulfillment of a Bachelor’s Degree, (e.g. Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Management, etc.).

Graduate student

Graduate students have already earned an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree and are now pursuing a higher-level degree, such as a Master’s degree or Ph.D.

Postdoctoral fellow

Postdoctoral fellows are individuals who have completed a doctoral degree and who are seeking the opportunity to train further in a particular area of research. Postdoctoral fellows at UBC can be either employees or trainees (Award Recipients), depending on the job description, level of direction, and nature of the research grant. “Postdocs” sometimes, but not always, have teaching duties in addition to their research.

What’s the role of a…

Professor (Associate Professor, Assistant Professor)

For detailed descriptions of each of the different types of faculty positions, visit UBC human resources.

Teaching Assistant (TA)

Teaching Assistants, usually graduate students, do exactly what their name suggests: assist the primary instructor in the teaching of a course. Some of the tasks TAs often help with are preparing course materials, marking assignments or exams, holding office hours, or leading discussion sections.


A Dean is the head of a university academic unit such as a faculty. They provide leadership for the professors and instructors of that faculty and are responsible for some student responsibilities as well.

President and Vice-Chancellor

The role of the President is to provide direction and oversight for the overall operation of UBC on both of its campuses. The president works with governing bodies such as the Board of Governors and the Senates as well as the President’s Executive Group.


The Chancellor is the senior leader at the University and presides over all major ceremonies. The Chancellor confers all university degrees, participates in the governance of the University as a member of the Board of Governors and the Senates, acts as the Chair of the Convocation, and represents the University at special events.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal provides overall leadership on the Okanagan Campus and is responsible for overall operational needs, strategic planning, and fiscal responsibilities. They represent UBC’s Okanagan campus at the local, national, and international levels.

Board of Governors

UBC has one Board of Governors (BOG) that acts and supports both campuses. The rights and duties of the Board of Governors are instilled by the British Columbia University Act. The BOG is responsible for the business affairs, management, and administration of the university.


UBC has two senates, one for each campus. The senate is responsible for the academic governance of its campus and meets once per month. The senate is also comprised of several committees, composed of elected administrative staff, Deans, faculty members, and students.