Researching research – that’s one of two main focuses of research currently performed by Nicola Di Girolamo, DMV, GPCert(ExAP), MSc (Evidence-Based Health Care), Ph.D., DECZM (Herpetology), associate professor of Zoological Medicine in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Meta-research, which basically means we are doing research on published research, is one of my main research focuses,” said Dr. Di Girolamo. “I also study exotic animals, specifically diagnostic techniques and certain types of treatments that could be effective for problems in rabbits; however, I will be spending more time on meta research this summer.”
Di Girolamo completed his first research project in veterinary school about 10 years ago and has consistently continued doing research throughout his career.
“Meta-research impacts people and animals because you methodically check what has been done by other researchers and verify that a standard was used for publishing,” he said. “Evaluation of published literature is at the base of evidence-based veterinary practice. This is something that every veterinarian should be doing on his or her own. However, we know that veterinarians are busy and don’t have time to evaluate research by themselves. By doing meta-research, we are facilitating their job. If there is a mistake in a certain type of trial or certain study designs, we will communicate that with the scientific community, which will ultimately improve the way they publish future findings.”
Di Girolamo gets excited to finish a study and see what his team actually found.
“Maybe there are a couple of very easy things that other researchers could do that would modify and improve the transparency of their research. I think that’s really exciting because I feel like we are progressing towards a better science, a better reporting of research. I look forward to the time that whenever we do our studies, there won’t be anything else to correct because every paper published is already perfect.”
This summer Dr. Di Girolamo is working with several veterinary students conducting meta-research.
“We meet in the morning and discuss what the students have found in the research papers. Then everyone works on their own and at the end of the day, we put everything together and discuss the findings. It’s very hard work. We spend an infinite amount of time extracting data. Training people to do that is difficult; however, it’s worth it because in the end, the results are pretty important for the field.
“I think the most appealing part of research is to be able to give something to the others and to make sure that what we are giving is useful. It makes me really happy to see very well conducted studies in veterinary medicine. If there is a single thing that I enjoy about research, it’s the fact that we discover something. Maybe at the beginning of our research, we noticed that there was a common error in a multitude of papers but we weren’t able to actually give it a number. By conducting meta-research, we can give it a number.”
Di Girolamo cautions that it is important to invest time in training the students who will be doing meta-research.
“I think it’s very appropriate to work on these projects with persons who are going to be professionals in the field. I noticed as we progress through the research, how their minds change during this period of data extraction. They get extremely good at reading and understanding articles. I’m sure some of the students working with me will also go into some sort of research field. It’s a very good starting point for their career. Plus, critically appraising articles is a skill that will be important for the rest of their professional lives.”
Vet Med Faces of Research is a monthly series designed to inform the public about the impact of the numerous studies being conducted at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Advancing knowledge and understanding for the benefit of the lives and livelihoods of the people of Oklahoma is a critical element of OSU’s land-grant mission. If you would like to support research at the college, please contact Ashley Hesser, assistant director of development with the OSU Foundation, at 405-385-0715 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | email@example.com